Who you talk to makes all the difference

Today I had a new class of small children, eight year olds. After class the parents came up to me and had questions about the homework. So I ended up speaking to them in Russian and explaining the homework to them. Who knew that there would be so many opportunities to speak Russian while teaching English!?

Then later I went to a sushi restaurant with Alisa and met one of her Russian friends. They spoke in Russian with me but I had a really difficult time understanding them because it was really loud in the restaurant and they were speaking super fast. So I started to wonder what had changed between when I had studied in St. Petersburg and now. I know I’m not speaking Russian as much as I was then, but what else is causing me to feel like my Russian is disintegrating? So I started to analyze the situation and I realized that over the summer I was in class and my teachers were probably grading their language to suit my level. Then, outside of class I spent a lot of time with foreigners who were speaking Russian as their second (or third) language. So how much of a difference does it make to speak to a native speaker as opposed to a non-native speaker?

Well, native speakers definitely speak faster and have a bigger vocabulary, use more colloquial expressions and construct the language in its natural state. Non-native speakers have studied the language and form it in different ways that native speakers. So, perhaps when I was speaking with non-native speakers, we could understand each other perfectly because we’d had the same instruction, knew the same words and had the same grammar. While it may be good practice to speak the language no matter who it’s with (native or non-native speaker), I’ve come to realize that more authentic understanding and fluency will be promoted from speaking with native speakers. Just something I never thought of until now.

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